Monday, 30 May 2016

Pennethorne's Cocktail Bar at Somerset House - Review

I seem to be going cocktail-crazy lately. From New York SATC tours and Soho basement bars to homemade attempts, it's been fun experimenting. Now, I believe I have found my newest favourite cocktail bar here in London town: Pennethorne's at Somerset House. Not only are the cocktails absolutely delicious, but they also serve tapas dishes, and you can enjoy it all on an alfresco terrace. The cobbled courtyard is nestled in the grounds of the new West Wing of Somerset House, between the Strand and Waterloo Bridge. With the Thames just over your shoulder, this little Victorian haven is one for Londoners in the know.

The terrace at Pennethorne's
Photo courtesy of Crisp Media

I was invited along to sample the new Spring menu and the eponymous cocktails. A beautiful Thursday evening in London, the iconic Somerset House set the scene for this elegant bar in the West Wing. Named for the architect whose Victorian designs can be found all over our city, Pennethorne's interior has high ceilings, inky dark walls, arched windows and décor inspired by Pennethorne's Grand Tour of Europe. Outside on the cobbled courtyard, the bustling West End not a stone's throw away, the secluded setting has a cosy Victorian vibe where you can enjoy alfresco cocktails away from the usual tourist trails and the river breeze.

Greeted by Mercedes, a name in keeping with the opulence of the bar, we walked through several champagne-swilling parties to our leather and velvet banquette. Mercedes, and the bar manager, Jo, treated us like VIPs all evening, recommending cocktail after cocktail and presenting us with a tapas-style feast representing their artisan menu inspired by Pennethorne's travels to Spain, Italy and France. Not usually a huge fan of olives or mushrooms, I'm now converted. The gordal olives were soft and flavourful while the mushroom toast had recently been taken off the menu, but so many regulars demanded it back it's now featured again. And it's easy to see why, all the food is simply cooked with seasonal ingredients and presented beautifully, tasting delicious.
Ham and cheese croquettes melt in the mouth, while the soft centred eggs are complemented beautifully by Spanish bacon. The frittata, though slim, is packed with flavour and more than filling.
One of the cheeses has a red wine skin. Need I say anymore?

Cheese platter, Meat platter with chutney, eggs with Iberico ham, bruschetta, mushroom toast, ham and cheese croquettes, frittata, and gordal olives - just some of the delicious menu on offer at Pennethorne's for Spring.
Bacon and Egg, Pennethorne's style
Photo courtesy of Crisp Media

The real reason we were here, of course, was for the cocktails. There were many post-work people supping champagne, there was a couple enjoying a wine flight and there was craft beer on tap. But we were here for some classic elegant drinks. First up was the Somerset and The Royale. Vanilla Galliano, Lemon, Passoa, Passionfruit and Pineapple served in a coupe glass and garnished with an edible flower was the Somerset - sweet, fruity and slightly fizzy. The Royale was a twist on the classic, with Martini Bianco, Peach Vodka, Strawberry Liqueur, Chocolate Bitters and Prosecco, again with an edible flower to give it a real sophistication. Both delicious.
The ever-attentive Mercedes took the liberty of bringing us the second round, this time The Herbalist and Lavender Fields. The Herbalist was fruity but with a kick of cracked black pepper and garnished with fresh coriander - made with in-house infused coriander gin and strawberry liqueur. Lavender Fields was fresh and fizzy, with Bombay Sapphire gin, green tea, fresh apple juice, ginger syrup, and lavender bitters. On top, of course, a purple flower.

Somerset, The Royale; The Herbalist, Lavender Fields;
The Herbalist, Lavender Fields; The Strand, El Patron

The Somerset
Photo courtesy of Crisp Media
For dessert, Pennethorne's just serve cocktails. My kind of dessert! Instead of calorific stodgy sweet pudding, we were treated to two more cocktails, as recommended by Mercedes, and once we tasted them, we could see why they were the perfect end to a meal, and no better substitute for dessert. El Patron was made with Coffee Patron, coconut rum, Amaretto, pineapple and chocolate bitters. All the elements you need in a dessert, creamy and sweet, looking like a cute Guinness in a martini glass, tasting like chocolate pudding in liquid form. The final cocktail, The Strand, finished the evening off perfectly, a blend of whiskey, cassis, homemade honey syrup, walnut bitters and ginger ale. A nightcap before heading back out to a bustling Thursday evening in Covent Garden.

Without a doubt I will be returning to Pennethorne's, both for the food and for the cocktails. The exclusivity of the bar and the Victorian vibe of the courtyard in the sunshine makes it one of those hidden gems that we who live in London love to about, but can't keep it a secret.

Huge thanks to Mercedes and the rest of the staff for having us.

Pennethorne’s, The New Wing, Somerset House, London WC2R 1LA

Monday to Friday, 8am to late, Saturday 10am to late (closed Sundays)
Food served from 5.30pm

Cocktails £8.50-11
Tapas Dishes £5-7
Meat or Cheese Platters £12.50

Read my review for Fabric Magazine here.

Pennethorne's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Square Meal

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Rosa's Thai Cafe - A Cookery Class at School of Wok

Saiphin Moore is Rosa. Well, there is no Rosa. Saiphin grew up in rural Thailand, set up her own noodle stall there at the age of 14, then after college moved to Hong Kong, where after making enough money working in a Thai restaurant, she opened her first restaurant, Tuk Tuk Thai. She moved with her husband in 2006 to London, where they found a disused cafe called Rosa's Cafe in Spitalfield's and turned it into the first of her chain of seven restaurants serving home cooked Thai food, as authentic as you can get in London.

Saiphin's secret to cooking at Rosa's Thai Cafe is to keep it real. She cooks using authentic Thai ingredients, never substituting ginger for her lesser galangal, refined sugar for palm sugar, or regular limes for kaffir limes. All Thai cooking is based around four flavours - salty, spicy, sour and sweet. Each flavour can be tasted individually, and in unison.

Rosa's fizz cocktails;
Lab Tod; Thai aubergine salad
Salmon red curry

At the School of Wok, for their series of guest chef classes, Saiphin, along with Head Chef Jeremy Pang, showed us how to cook three of her dishes: Laab Tod - a spicy minced pork patty, Thai Aubergine Salad - the dressing you can use on any salad, and Red Salmon Curry.

First we ground a bunch of ingredients in a pestle and mortar to make a red curry paste, and cooked it up with some coconut milk.
While this was simmering we made Laab Tod, the spicy minced pork patty, which was then deep-fried while we made our aubergine salad dressing. This, my friends, was sublime. I'm posting the recipe below because I think everyone should have it. And best thing about it? It's really simple! Once you have all the ingredients (visit Chinatown or a good Asian supermarket), it's really easy to knock up. 

Once the salad was ready, we fried off our salmon, and poured over the curry sauce. Garnished with chillies, kaffir lime leaves and holy basil and galangal, it tasted delicious (although most people dipped into Saiphin's bowl to compare!). The patties were crispy and the secret to this was roasted ground rice. The aubergine salad - I'll say it again - was sublime. Eating amazing dishes, cooked by ourselves, with our fellow cookery enthusiasts, the School of Wok have once more demonstrated that preparation is 90% of cooking Asian food, and the results, with the right ingredients and guidance, show that cooking amazing authentic Asian food is accessible and absolutely delicious!

Thai Aubergine Salad (Yum-Maker-Yao)

Serves 2

2 Thai Long Eggplants or Aubergine (green or purple)
1 red onion
1/2 tbsp. Lime juice
1/2 tbsp. Fish sauce
3-5 Thai red chillies
5 g palm sugar

For the garnish:
1 sprig coriander, chopped
1 spring onion, sliced
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 hard-boiled egg, quartered
Jumbo prawns, if desired (cooked)


Chargrill or roast the aubergine until the skin is brown/black. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, peel off the charred skin and cut into chunks.

For the dressing, mix palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. Stir well until the palm sugar is completely dissolved. Finish off with chopped red chillies and red onions, and adjust to taste with fish sauce.

Pour the sauce over the aubergines just before serving. Garnish with coriander, spring onion, sesame seeds, prawns and egg.

Serve at room temperature.

Thai Aubergine Salad
Photo by Yolanda Ocon

Photo by Yolanda Ocon

Sunday, 15 May 2016

New York - My Little Bite of the Big Apple

New York. My dream destination - and I finally made it there (you can make it - anywhere, it's up to you!) with a bunch of besties for the trip of a lifetime. Mostly, we drank cocktails, Sex and the City-style (well, in our heads anyway) though we did manage a little bit of sight-seeing and the odd bite to eat.

Benares, Tribeca
Benares Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Our best meal by far was in the Tribeca area, at Benares. An Indian fine dining experience in the heart of the Financial district, with a menu fully exploring the Indian subcontinent. With a Michelin-starred sister restaurant in Mayfair, London, the dishes on offer at Benares, Tribeca, were beautifully presented and zinged with exotic spices and freshness. Our gluten-free friend was catered for on request, and had a range of dishes to choose from. I have to say it was one of the best Indian meals I've had (and I've had a lot of those!).

Tamarind and Mint Chutneys with Rice Puffs; Kandhari Murgh (chicken with pomegranate, date and gooseberry dip); Mathura Se (aloe tikka - potato patties with gram, mint and cranberry)
Tii Wali Machhi (Ahi tuna with ground spices, sesame and wild rice); Achari Bhindi (okra bhaji)
Chicken Saag; Chicken Shahi Karma; Chicken Jalfrezi 

Thai Select, 9th Avenue
Thai Select Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Initially this place looked a little run down and unappetizing, but once inside, the staff were delightful, and the cocktails were almost glowing. The food came out quickly and it was pretty standard Thai fare. The portion sizes were quite 'American', read 'Large', and we each had a variety of authentic curries. The starters of edamame beans satisfied the gluten-free requirements, the rest of us digging into more traditional springs rolls and satay in a sharing platter, and although I was asked several times, if I wanted my Jungle Curry 'hot', (to which I replied OF COURSE!), it wasn't particularly powerful. A good, safe option for Thai in New York.

Edamame Beans, Tasting Combo; Red Chicken Curry
Panang Curry; Mojitos, MaiTais and a Blue Lagoon; Jungle Curry
Red Curry; Green Curry

Ipanema, West 46th Street (Broadway)
Ipanema Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Ipanema was the one I was looking forward to most. It was the only one we'd booked before we left for NYC, as we wanted to make sure we ate something before Broadway Show (Kinky Boots, should you ask). I was expecting petiscos like I had in Camden, so it was quite different. Disappointing in some ways, as I had bigged it up to my mates, and as it was our first formal meal, it didn't quite cut it. A haven for seafood lovers, perhaps, with the sauted shrimp served in a coconut shell, and the salted cod looked appetizing. My chicken, however was really dry and overcooked, so I couldn't finish it.
We shared a croquette sharing dish, and the best dish, for me, was the chorizo - served in it's fryer!

The cocktails showcased the Brazilian spirit cachaca, giving a kick to our more familiar drinks, mainly the Caipirinha, reminiscent of a Mojito and various fruity versions of the Cosmo, all made with cachaca. Bright and fruity, they set the tone for Kinky Boots...

Salgadinhos sortidas; Portuguese Sausage; Camar o no coco
Salm o Recheado; Camar o Pandor


Visiting New York is like visiting a film set, so it's easy to pretend we're in our favourite sitcom Friends, or SATC, or even try to be a bit classier and re-enact Breakfast at Tiffany's or Some Like It Hot. Niles Bar, conveniently located in our hotel, was our most frequented bar. With friendly Irish barmen, thoroughly professional at rustling up anything from a Cosmopolitan or five, to a Key Lime Martini, a Frozen Margarita, and even the occasional Hot Toddy. And once, yes, a pot of tea...

Niles Bar, Seventh Avenue (and some Red-Headed Slots)

Ward III is a dark (though definitely not dingy) whiskey joint in Tribeca. We sought solace there after a moving afternoon at Ground Zero, and as none of us are whiskey drinkers, we found comfort in several bespoke libations such as Sex in The City (of course!) - a 'Wodka, Hibiscus, Lime, Strawberry, Sparkling Wine' concoction, The Moroccan - 'Orange-infused Wodka, Mint, Lime', and a Benito - 'Tequila, Pineapple, Lime, Aperol, Jalapeño, Mint'. Make sure you eat the kirsch cherry from the Sex and the City - a perfect ending...
Ward III Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Ward III
No trip to New York would be complete for a SATC fan (who, us?) without a visit to Aiden's fictional Scout Bar on Mulberry Street. It's actually O'Nieals on Grand Street (they moved the street sign from Mulberry Street two blocks away for filming). We got bustled in there along with another 30 girls (and one bloke) on a SATC On Location tour, and got to sample the 'original' Cosmopolitan. The tour also included a stop at Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker Street, where Carrie and Miranda supposedly 'ate cupcakes', as well a chance to walk into Buddakan restaurant, where Carrie and Big had their wedding rehearsal dinner. None of this I knew before... but I'm glad I experienced it. And a shop called The Pleasure Chest. Fun. Rabbits and such.

Cosmopolitans at Scout
Another iconic place to visit in New York is The Plaza. Featured in so many movies, this place oozes old-fashioned charm and opulence and despite our ruddy cheeks after a stroll around a sunny Central Park, we were made to feel welcome, special and as though we, ourselves, were the movie stars. The champagne bar overlooking the Pulitzer Fountain offered a long list of champagne cocktails - absolutely the prettiest, tastiest cocktails by far.

The Champagne Bar at The Plaza
Aviation, 5Star, Rose Club Sparkle

Of course it wasn't ALL cocktails. Predominately, but not all. On the way to Ellis Island, I had a pretzel - those babies are salty, and one morning, breakfast on the go was a cream cheese bagel.


The best burger was at BRGR on Seventh, grass-fed, succulent and accompanied by sweet potato fries.
Brunch at Le Pain Quotidian opposite Carnegie Hall was avocado on sourdough toast, with a post-noon Mimosa. This place was great for gluten-free and I know the London branches are renowned for catering for all dietary requirements.
Avocado on sourdough, with Mimosa.
Friedman's on 31st Street were also super gluten-free friendly, they do a great brunch on the weekend, as well as artisan and organic-type lunches during the week. I can especially recommend the herbed-fries for a hangover...
Turkey Burger with herbed fries
 Breakfast to go (or rather, lunch) one day was a breakfast crepe from Eataly in Brookfield Place - here you can watch them cook your food with style and the typical New York friendliness.
Breakfast crepe
So with all the yellow cab hailing, high rise buildings, sirens and 'Have a nice day, ma'am's, this holiday was the best ever. New York, with so many iconic places to visit, so much good food, and the amazing feeling that you are actually on location, I'm definitely going back to the city that never sleeps.